Mr. Dexter's Account of a Spoken Sermon

by George MacDonald, One Sabbath Evening,

Canonbury, 1871.



The editor of the Boston Congregationalist, in a letter to his own paper from London, gives an interesting description of George MacDonald in the pulpit. According to Mr. Dexter, MacDonald was bred a Congregational minister, is a graduate of a Congregational college, and was for several years pastor of a Congregational church in Sussex. Now, however, his name does not appear upon the official yearly list; but he still preaches occasionally, and Mr. Dexter was present when, one Sabbath evening, he officiated for Mr. Allon, at Canonbury:

"The large audience-room was very full. Mr. MacDonald wore no gown nor bands-as Congregational ministers are quite apt to do here, and as is the usual custom in that pulpit-and had nothing in any way distinctively clerical in his look or manner. He is of a little more than medium height, with a full and flowing dark beard and moustache, and quite long hair; an eminently handsome man, with a general look which suggests the scholar, if not-I do not know that he writes poetry-the poet. His voice is rather husky-I fancied a little abnormally so, as he seemed to have a cold. His reading was, to me, very impressive-not that it was faultless, or in any vocal respect near perfection, but that the Scriptures selected were striking, and their rendering somehow singularly earnest. From the Old Testament he read the 5th of Amos, and from the New a portion of the Revelation of John, including the description, in the l4th chapter, of the treading of the great wine-press of the wrath of God, when the blood came out 'even unto the horse-bridles,' etc; and there was something in his emphatic tones, his Scotch pronunciation-decided, but not amounting to a 'brogue'-and his hirsute front, which gave him a weird seeming, something as if from among the herdmen of Tekoah, or the Isle that is called Patmos, one of the old prophets was come again to warn the wicked.

His sermon was founded upon 2 Peter, iii. 8. 'But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.' Having read the text, he closed the Bible, and, leaning over upon it, began a discourse purely extempore, so far as visible notes were concerned, speaking somewhat thus: "The metaphysicians tell us, though I could never quite make sure that I understood it, while I have had an occasional glimmer of an idea what they mean by it, that there is no such thing as what we call time or space, to the Infinite. But this I can comprehend must be true: that in God's eyes a thousand years and a single day must be alike, in that He can see with one glance all that goes to fill up and make out the one as easily as the other; that, as one might say, it is no harder for Him to cognize the one than the other. Well, if this be so, I think it must follow thence that God is never in a hurry. It comes of our unbelief in Him that we are so apt to be in such a hurry. 'He that believeth shall not make haste.' If we look at the history of the material world, or the intellectual world, or the social world, or the moral world, or the religious world, nothing is clearer than that God never was in a hurry, and that He can afford to wait.

* * *

As we contemplate the seething sum of all social wrong and bitterness and abomination, we are apt to get impatient with it all, and be eager to undertake some great and sudden thing against it. We cannot persuade ourselves to be willing to work slowly upon it from within, as the leaven works upon the loaf, as the life-principle of the mustard-seed pushes itself up into the tree; but we want to attack and vanquish it all somehow from the outside. But that was not the way which Jesus took; He never attacked any thing from the outside, and He did the will of His Father.

"Ah, I would have you think less about being 'good,' and being 'kind,' and more about being just. I would have you earnest, not simply to talk about religion, but to be more honest toward the little despised, neglected duties of each day-by-day.

"You feel out of heart, sometimes, that you don't get faster on. And yet likely you have not made any really great effort, after all. You say, perhaps: 'Ah, it's hardly any good trying!' But then you are almost always driven, when you sit down calmly to think of it, to the confession that you haven't been trying much notwithstanding.

"You get discouraged, very likely, because there are so many people in the world who do not seem to be really capable of such a thing as a genuinely spiritual idea. But let God mind His own; we have nothing to do with that. We must not be discouraged, because of the great things we cannot do, into omitting the little things we can do.

"It seems to me, sometimes, as if God had taken great trouble to make us. The problem was how to do it. I hope you don't think God made us, and made the world, out of nothing. I don't believe God made anything out of nothing; I think He made all things out of Himself. And making us thus out of Himself, the problem was how to make us so that we should be ourselves; and so I sometimes think He took a great trouble to throw us off, as it were, so far out of Himself as that we might become ourselves, and develop a will and a free will of our own, and with that free will turn around and seek Him. Men often confound will with impulse, as if these were identities, instead of opposites. As when they say of a child that continually goes astray: 'What a determined will it has towards evil:'-the fact being, all the while, that the child has no power of will at all, to resist the dominion of unbridled passion that leads it continually astray.

"Now, friends, you who want to be good, to be just, to be faithful, where lies your hope of deliverance? I do not speak to you-as a motive-of a hell, for I do not think you need it. But, do you know, I think from the extreme of the old-fashioned teaching that God made men on purpose to damn them, some modern theologians are much exposed to the going over to a very dangerous opposite extreme, and teaching that God will not damn men at all! I do not seek to drive you towards goodness with this fear of God's damnation, but let the man who persists in hardness and impenitence, and who goes on and on and out of the world scorning and neglecting the mercy of our Heavenly Father, be sure that there will be for him a future condemnation terrible to bear. But you, who are tender-hearted, and who want to be true, and are trying to be, learn these two things from our text: never to be discouraged because good things get on so slowly here, and never to fail to do daily that good which lies next to your hand. Do not be in a hurry, but be diligent. Enter into the sublime patience of the Lord! Be charitable in view of it. Be earnest in the faith of it. God can afford to wait, why cannot we-since we have Him to fall back upon! Let patience have her perfect work, and bring forth her celestial fruits. Trust God to weave your little thread into the great web, though the pattern show it not yet. When God's people are able and willing thus to labour and to wait, remembering that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, the grand harvest of the ages shall come to its reaping, and the day shall broaden itself to a thousand years, and the thousand years shall show themselves as a perfect and finished day!"


The sermon, which was about thirty-three minutes in length, was of a character essentially unreportable, and I am sensible that the above sketch is very imperfect in its suggestion of it; but I believe it fairly conveys its prominent ideas in very nearly the order of their occurrence, and with something of the flavor of their speech. It was streaked everywhere with fine touches of poetic expression, which no report can convey, and held the closest attention of his listeners. The manner of its delivery was somehow fragmentary and twitchy, with frequent pauses, which-and his prayers had the same peculiarity-were a little displeasing at first, as suggesting a view to effect, but which gradually failed to give that idea as he warmed into his subject. I think my readers will agree with me that there was very little tendency toward Universalism in the discourse; and that it rather confirms a report which I have heard, that Mr. MacDonald, if he ever leaned in that direction, has seen the error of that way. I am sure he would be heard with deep interest in our American pulpits."

About MacDonald as a poet we may have something to say in a later number.










George MacDonald.

A Discourse Delivered April 13, 1873,

in Martine's Hall, to the Church of the Messiah.


Friends, nothing but the faith that we partake of one spirit can justify any man or strengthen any man, in speaking to his fellows; speaking to them in the name of God. Did I not believe that deepest in us lies something the same in every man and every woman; did I not believe that in the innermost chamber-the chamber to which some of us, perhaps, have not yet found the door, or, having found the door, have not yet found the key of it-did I not believe that in this innermost chamber, lies a hidden God, I dare not, I could not stand up to speak before an assembly whose hearts, otherwise, I do not know. I fall back for strength upon this one eternal truth, that "in Him we live, and move, and have our being;" and therefore, in Him I am bold to speak to you.

And this is Easter morning, friends, reminding us that death is but a phantom, the grave but a door; that the unseen is yet the real; that all that men call-and too often call-reality and fact in this world, shall pass away as dream; and the mighty morning of Truth shall dawn at last; and we who, it may be, have been tossed all the night long in weary dreams, shall at length say, "Now I am awake, and I know what life is." Therefore, I shall, in the thoughts it shall please God to allow to pass through my heart as I speak to you, ask you to be with me; and I will guide you in the course of my thought by giving you three little words out of the grand, old Book-praised be God for what it holds, especially for the news of this Easter day! I will not spoil them by pointing to where they are. You will easily find them-"When I awake, I am still with Thee." And again, in another Psalm, "As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness." And yet again-"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."

Have any of you felt, when you lay down at night, weary, perhaps, from the work of the day, that yet you were unwilling to yield this consciousness? You recoiled from passing away from yourself, as it were, from letting go this conscious being and yielding to the half-death. I almost believe that something like this was the feeling of the Psalmist at times, when he lay down to sleep. Then comes the sense that we want God, for we, ourselves, poor as is our hold upon ourselves, and wretched upholders of life in ourselves as we are, must yield that hold, and if God be nowhere with us, where are we?

But the Psalmist comforts himself by saying: "When I awake, and the time of darkness and dreams is over, I am still with Thee. I shall have been with Thee all the time; and when I was still, Thy life was pulsing into my heart, Thy life was beating in my veins, and the strength which my own consciousness kept out, in the time of my unconsciousness has been flowing full and rich and unopposed into my passive being. When I awake, I am still with Thee."

To awake is to be with God, to sleep is to be with God. To awake is but to know it. What shall we awake into, but into God? If there is no surrounding peace, no rich infinitude of living, loving thought, O friends, what hope is there for us who have to fight; because this: that we know in ourselves is a poor, wretched thing; because we are not noble, and we would be noble; because we are not pure, and we would be pure; because we are dull of heart and stupid of brain; yet we see such a possibility before us, short-lived as we know we are, that we know we are but half-awake, and fain would we awake and be with the eternal, living, changeless, absolute Life.

You will remember, many of you, how it used to fare with you, sometimes, at school; how, in the midst of the busy hum, there would sometimes fall a dead silence over the whole hive of thought and speech, and everyone seemed to become suddenly conscious of an individuality, of a loneliness, in the midst of the multitude. One living thing inside seemed to awake and say, "Here I am; it is no mistake; it is no massive life; it is the aggregate of individual consciousnesses here in this school." And something like that falls upon us every now and then in life afterwards, in the midst of business, sometimes. I appeal to those of you who know what it is to think, who know what it is, even in the billows of the world, if you do not sometimes find your head and shoulders emerging above the wave, and you, yourself, becoming aware of the silence that drowns all things, the silence, the living silence of thought-the silence of God. In the midst of life and business, the earnest confusion and hurrying affairs of life, do you not sometimes thus start awake, and does it not come to you with blessed gladness: "I am still with Him! Still with Him"?

Say you have been at some place of amusement, perhaps you have seen the show of other men's doings and thoughts passing before you in visible form, and while you have been contemplating the spectacle, the curtain falls, and you go away, you go out into the free and cool air, and the great stars are shining over your head, and you say, "Thank God! I am still with Him!" You wake from other thoughts, from other business, and you find that God is still all in all, that you live because He lives, and that you hope because He wills. Is it not so again and yet again when we have been forgetting Him? When we have let the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the first judgments of society, and the ambitions of the world crowd into our hearts and thoughts? We have been passing judgments on our neighbors; we have been glorifying ourselves; we have been dividing and dividing from each other; we have been caring for our own dignities, as we thought, and not for the truth. We have been denying the lowly, the weak, the simple in heart; we have been saying practically in our dealings with the world: "What He says is all very well, but it won't work in the present days." We have been drifting away from the simple, old, open life. We have been sinking deeper and deeper in evil dreams-in dreams in which we were able to say to ourselves: "I am awakened, I am not dreaming." We have sank deeper and deeper, and all at once there comes a shock. The Divine Will has sent some little thing upon us, something of what we call "evil." He has unloosed one of his hounds upon us, and sent him after us-a hound swift of foot, fiery of eye, keen of tooth, and that hound has fastened on our hearts, and we start awake. Terrible it is to us if we cannot then say, "I am still with Thee."

There will come a day-shall we not speak of that which shall be?-when each one of us must do one thing alone. Thank God! there are so many things we can do together, but one thing each of us has to do alone; alone so far as our friends and our neighbors are concerned. We must die alone. The eager heart almost breaking forth that it may keep hold of those that surround us, must stay within. The tongue cannot tell that which has moved in the spirit. It may be we are afraid then, but of all things, we shall feel our loneliness, and that we are dying alone. Alone? No, never, never alone. We live to Him, and we die to Him, and I believe, that through the light of the resurrection of the glorified body of Christ, our death will be such an awakening that the receiving spirit shall cry out: "I am still with Thee!"

I suspect, friends, that what we call death is in reality the resurrection. I suspect it. Our Lord Himself said-and I don't pretend to understand the words aright; I can only have glimmers about them-"He that liveth and believeth on Me shall never die." We call it death. He says it is not death, as you look at it. Perhaps it is only death in this way-death as when your dearest friend turns his or her back upon you and walks away. Perhaps it is like when Moses was hidden in the rock, and the hand of God covered him, and when the hand was taken away, he saw the back of God retreating through the mist. I think death is but the back of life; it is the back of the resurrection-the angel of death that we see is but the back, for the face is turned the other way; because He says, "Follow Me and you shall see My face on the other side of the resurrection," and Jesus was just turning around to His face that we might know what was there, even when we did not see it.

"When I awake, I am still with Thee." O friends, there is a worse sleep than any-the sleep that is death. The more I deny the phantom death, the more I feel that there is something of which this death is but the image, the phantom. Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee life! There is a death in which the ordinary sign of life is that we are not comfortable. A sleep, call it, if you will, because it is not final, but a sleep in which a man is content to be as he is; a death of nature, in which the man or the woman is just satisfied with anything that happens to come, as far as the individuality is concerned, as eager after dress, after honor, after wealth, even after lower things; after pleasure, it may be, even after eating and drinking. There is no thought, "What am I? Am I true? Am I faithful? Has God anything to do with me, or anything to say to me? Or am I just such that no man could love, me who knew me, except with a loving compassion? Am I such that God must make me over again, before I can be pleasing in the sight of Him at all? Am I not lovely? Is there nothing beautiful in me? Am I a blot, or a flower? Am I a soul, or only a body that is killing the soul inside it?"

What is the part of every Christian man, who hath recognized the truth, that Life is within us, that the kingdom of heaven can come into man? And what is his duty but to so live that men shall know there is life and light burning in him? Why have we apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and teachers? And what is the good of them, but that they shall bear testimony that there is a life beyond life, that there is an unseen existence which alone is life? For they have awoke and found that there was God.

But look a little further, and see what the waking hopes for. When the sweet singer-whose head, perhaps, was uneasy because it wore a crown, and who, in order to get rid of the ache of it, had to remember that he was a child, and that God was putting him to sleep-lay down to rest, he felt that when he came to himself again, it would be all right, for there God would be just the same. What was it he was looking for when he awoke? "When I awake," he says, "I shall be satisfied." That is what we want, is it not, friends? We want to be satisfied. We could hold so much more than we do, and we know it. Our hearts are vessels, and we feel they might be filled with such rich wine. What do we do when we pray, but take our hearts and hold them out, like cups, for God to fill? Every one of us knows that just at the bottom of this golden cup this golden bowl of ours, there lies a little drop of the red wine of life, and we know that we could hold it full; and we want to be satisfied. We are made hungry creatures; empty, longing, desiring creatures; and the blessed thing is, that when we put poor wine into this cup, it will not hold it. It casts it forth. There are some who try, even, to fill the golden bowl of their hearts with the husks of wine, but the cup casts it forth, and aches the more because it is not filled with the rich wine of life.

Pervert it as we will, friends, it is love that our hearts need. Ah! no, it is not what you are thinking of now, some of you. You mistake. You want admiration, but it is love that our hearts need. Yes, and far more love in us than love to us. It is a glorious thing to be loved, but it is ten-fold more glorious to love. "When I awake, I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness;" I shall love as Thou lovest; I shall be filled with Thy love. And so the Apostle John seems to have felt when he said, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." No; the less cannot comprehend the greater. It can only comprehend spots, and parts, and glimmers of it. We cannot know what we shall be, but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. We shall be satisfied with His likeness, and then we shall be like Him. How they do strive, those grand, old men, how they strive, in every way, to tell us that God is all in all, that we are because He is! And every beholding of the likeness of God is enough to make us like Him.

Now, let me turn it another way, and say we must be like Him before we can see Him. It is a representation of the two sides of the same thing. We shall be partakers of the divine nature. Do you ever think how like you are to God? The humble of you think very often how unlike you are to God. Do you ever think, on the other side, how you are made in His image, and that you cannot have a glorious thought in you-no, you cannot have a single, tender, loving thought, if it is only to a bird-but you are thinking God? It is God in you. It is that in which you are a partaker of the divine nature, made in His image, that thus loves.

You could not enjoy the glory of this Easter morning-when the sun is shining as if he too were glad of it; you could not enjoy these flowers that have come up out of their graves in a glorious individual resurrection, because God thought of them and God willed it; you could not enjoy one of them; you could not delight in the loveliest face that you have ever seen, not a picture could please you; not a statue could fill you with wonder; no, you could not gaze on the snow-capped mountain with feeling of exaltation, were it not that you are partakers of the very nature of God.

We have nothing but what we spoil, and that very thing that we spoil is a spoiling of the divine in us. Hence it was that the mighty God could appear amongst us in human form and actual human existence, because God and man in their nature are one; because, as the thoughts move about in a man's mind, and the one thought accuses and the other thought excuses, just so we move about in God's mind. We are thoughts of His, as it were. In Him we live, and move, and have our being, and what we need is that we may become awake and see the likeness of Him, and be satisfied with that likeness.

O friends! O men! busy in the world, let me appeal to you for a moment! It troubles me sometimes when I think of what you are exposed to. It troubles me to think how you must be overwhelmed sometimes, and I think that sometimes surely you are too eager after this sleepy life. Oh! yes, it is busy; but we are very busy in our dreams, and the high, better nature of us may be sleeping all the time. Oh! do not let yourselves out-the might of you, and the power of you-to make money! Let not that be the end with you! Do not dream that you can atone for being too eager after it, by spending it well! It will not make up for it to you. It will help a little; but why should a man plunge body and soul-over head and ears, as we say, into a thing, in which the labor of his hands, of his intellect, is sufficient? Oh! do not go to sleep, but believe there is a thinking God about you all the time, a God who does not care very much about people being rich-for we have seen some friends of His to whom He would give a little more money if he did-but He does care that His children, His sons and daughters, those who have proceeded out of His very heart, should walk loving, noble, dignified lives; that they should hold their heads up and keep their garments clean, and be in the world even as He was in the world.

I believe in nothing but in the Lord revealed in Christ. I see no other way to explain things, or to get things put right, but what we find in that story. I would not press my theories on you, but I say to you, I would not for aught lose the idea that an honest man can hold about that story. Grant that it is possible that the old tale of this Man be true, that a man like that came and said that he knew about things-it is worth a man's while to give up half his day to it, to find out all that is there; the very chance that there is a secret hidden there which shall reveal things; which shall enable him to see how contradictions shall possibly be reconciled; how heart and heart may come absolutely together, and be grand, simple and wise. Contradictions cannot be the law, unity is the law, and that which the whole heart of the groaning creation cries out after is the sonship. Yea, friends, I think sometimes that we are, as it were, an analysis of God; that every one of us has a special call and power to represent something in the divine mind that any one else cannot, and, therefore, until we are all one in God, it is no wonder the individual heart of us should be troubled and drawn asunder hither and thither.

What we want is nature itself-that is, God. None of us are in a state of nature until we are filled with God. To think that, in the whole course of a life a man may, at last, after many wanderings, creep up, an old, worn man, to his Father's door, with just strength enough to sit down on the door-steps, and hardly strength to knock, and that he will get in and be clothed in youth again! That is worth living for. Some of us are getting old, friends. We know what it is. We find the mists gathering about us, and the weakness coming on, and we feel that we were not made to be old. We feel a rebellion within us against it. We stand up and say that old age, even at death, must be but a phantom, and we fall back upon the loving thing within. We go beyond it; we go back to the living God, who cannot grow old, for time is but a creature that He has made. We cry to Him: "Wake us, O Father, that we may see Thy likeness, that we may be satisfied, that we may be eternally young, and strong, high-hearted, noble, gracious and blessed, like thy Son, our Lord!"

Ah! friend, and brother, or sister, who has lost any one dear to you, do take the word of Christ for it, and the word of God for it. Would you live always, or do you not know that death itself is but the door by which you go after the beloved? As He has arisen, so shall they arise. As He shines triumphant, so shine they.

I do not know what comes after. My own hope is infinite, even for the not good, and I know no reason why there may not be repentance beyond the grave. One thing I am sure of, that without God, all is misery and hell, and I am certain, as certain as conviction can be, that even torture itself will not be spared, if that would rouse people from the sleep of death, that they might pass into life.

But let us hold fast by this story of the resurrection, and know that he that liveth and believeth in Him shall never die. I think the Lord died that He might come nearer to His disciples, and I believe that the death of friends that is, separation-for let us believe that to those who go, the separation is as keen as to those who remain-is in order to bring our hearts nearer. I am confident, that in millions of cases, the love that would never be perfected without death, is perfected by death, and that death is just the ripening autumn sun; or, perhaps, as they say of the autumn moon, that "it ripens the grain." They say so in the old country. Death is just like that. It ripens the love that could not get to its perfection and simplicity here, the bodily presence carrying it so far, and there interfering with the spiritual perfection of self-denying, absolute love.

May the Lord Christ, who passed through the gates of death, and has left a trail of glory behind Him, perfect us! Even to our dull eyes there comes a faint shimmer from His track. May He waken our hearts, O friends, and rise again! Every time a human soul cries out to Him, or trusts in Him, or says, "Father in Heaven!" that is the new resurrection of Christ. Call it the new birth, if you will, it is all one. Birth and resurrection are only on-going things of the same kind. We want birth, after birth resurrection-resurrection into the life of the truth. Oh! let us hold by this Man who has passed through the gates of death, and come back through the gates of death-living, glorious and noble. Some people cannot believe that He rose again. It is not for me to say whether it is their fault or not. I can believe it. It is so good I cannot help believing it. I cannot prove it as I might an experiment in chemistry, but it fills my soul and expands my life, and I hold by it until it be proved untrue. Let us see which shall be better off. But even if you cannot believe in this, you might, at least, see whether it does not speak what appeals to your sense of duty, to the inmost soul in you, that, when waking, you know that it should be so with you. Then remember the words that He spoke: "If any man is willing to do the will of the Father, he shall know of the doctrine."

I might go on, but I could not get my heart empty if I did. Have I been too personal either for myself or for you? If I have, I claim forgiveness, for I have but been trying to give you my best. As I say, I believe in nothing but the Lord revealed in Christ. Take, then what I say, as much of it as you can, and let us know each other when we shall "awake and be satisfied with His likeness."


-This notice appeared in "The Chicago Pulpit" April 1873.

THE CHURCH REPORTER-George MacDonald, the poet and lecturer, who was in town last week to fulfil an engagement with the Star Course Managers, preached on Easter morning a most eloquent sermon before Laird Collier's congregation. The Church Reporter was present and made a report of the sermon for the benefit of the patrons of THE PULPIT. It will appear this week. In the evening Mr. MacDonald preached for Rev. C. D. Helmer.